Yacaaba Centre celebrating 35 years in 2024

ALTHOUGH no longer located on the street from which it originally took its name, the Yacaaba Centre has become a beacon of hope in a time when families and individuals are increasingly experiencing hardship.

When members of the Port Stephens community find themselves in desperate circumstances – struggling to make ends meet, wrestling with depression or anxiety, needing to find a place of safety or just facing uncertain circumstances – the chances are high that someone will recommend they knock on one door.

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“We’re sometimes called a ‘last stop’ service,” said Yacaaba Centre manager Louise Simpson, “because when people are sent to us, we will at the very least be able to guide them to the service that will be able to help them.”

As their profile and capacity to serve has grown over the course of 35 years, so has the demand for those services.

This increase has put an enormous amount of pressure on the staff and volunteers to keep up with the needs presenting at their door.
“We operate as an early intervention counselling service,” said Louise.

The purpose of the service is to meet people at a vulnerable point and help them to develop strategies to prevent their circumstances from falling into crisis.

It can also mean meeting individuals or families as they first experience crisis and assisting them to develop the capacity to resolve their issues and change their circumstances.

“The hope is that we not only help to meet people’s needs, but also equip them with the skills and information they need to continue to improve their lives,” Louise said.

This year the Yacaaba Centre will celebrate 35 years of service to the community of Port Stephens.

Established in 1989, primarily as a service to aid women in need (specifically to assist women fleeing domestic violence) the Yacaaba Centre now assists anyone who comes through their doors, five days a week, to overcome the challenges they are facing.

The dedicated and passionate team of counsellors offer support for issues like anxiety and depression, trauma recovery, grief and relationship difficulties.

Although they do not function as case workers, the Yacaaba team are able to work with individuals or families facing the prospect of homelessness, ideally assisting them to find their own solutions.

A strong sense of connection to the local community has also opened the opportunity to fulfil the occasional immediate need, such as a bag of groceries.

In some ways the Yacaaba Centre has become a kind of hub for services to the needy, with outreach services forming connections that allow them to better meet the needs of the community.

While the centre has their specific charter for counselling, when people present in need of more immediate intervention the team will be able to refer to an appropriate service.

As demand for the counselling services provided by the Yacaaba Centre has increased, the team have worked to ensure that everyone who comes to them can be met.

Along with the responsibility of leading the team and continuing to review and develop the best possible services for Port Stephens, Louise Simpson has to ensure that the Yacaaba Centre is funded sufficiently to maintain their vital services.

“Last year we received a blow when we were informed that the Department of Mental Health would not continue their part of our funding in the last financial year.

“We rely on government funding and grants to continue our current services.”

This withdrawal of funding meant a loss of approximately 44 percent of the Yacaaba Centre’s operating budget for the 23/24 financial year.

The suddenness with which a government department can cease funding has the potential to cripple the capacity of organisations like the Yacaaba Centre.

“We already have to make so many concessions here to be able to keep doing what we do,” said Louise.

“Since this year we have had to reduce hours.

“All of our staff here, including myself, work part-time.”

Of the 400 or so clients that have been received by the centre in the past year, 60 percent have presented with mental health concerns.

This raises significant questions about the government decisions regarding funding.

Some good news was received on Thursday 1 February, however, when on Thursday the NSW Labor Government came through on a campaign pledge of $100, 000 to the Yacaaba Centre.

“We had factored that pledged funding from last year into our budget,” Louise said.

The decision had been made to direct that money towards the refit of their building to allow disability access, installing a lift and making their headquarters all-inclusive.

The plans for the refit had been put in place and a commitment made to the redevelopment, so it was vital that the Government make good on their pledge.

“It is great we have been approved to receive our $100,000 election promise and I look forward to receiving it so we can refocus on our 2023 plan of making the Centre disability friendly.

“We continue to seek funding for our services level into the next financial year so we don’t have to rely on community donations for services.”

Member for Port Stephens Kate Washington, who also serves as the Minister for Families and Communities, and Disability Services, spoke about the funding approval.

“I’m grateful to the Yacaaba Centre for delivering critical services to our community for 35 years now, providing support to locals when they have nowhere else to turn.

“The longevity of the much-loved service speaks to the need in our community and the dedication of the Yacaaba Centre’s team.

“Throughout those years, funding has been a consistent challenge.

“Before I was even elected, I helped drive the successful campaign to keep the Yacaaba Centre’s doors open when the former Coalition Government was going to withdraw all funding.”

The struggle to maintain the level of service that the Yacaaba Centre provides, however, is far from over.

With the loss of such a significant amount of much-needed funds from the NSW Government, the community of Port Stephens have demonstrated their own support and appreciation for the Yacaaba Centre by digging deep and helping to shore up the budget.

“We are thankful to the community for supporting the Centre this year to continue to be able to open five days a week.

“Without community support we would not have been able to continue to provide our current level of service. “

A number of local charitable organisations, craft groups, businesses and individuals have either contributed, or pledged to contribute this financial year to ensure that the team will not need to reduce their services due to insufficient funds.

The pressure will remain on the manager’s shoulders over the coming months to seek new opportunities for financial support.

Louise plans to make a concerted effort to court philanthropic funding from larger, corporate organisations and find patrons in local businesses.

In the meantime, there has been an impressive show of community support, and the Yacaaba Centre are discovering just how many friends they have amongst the people of Port Stephens.

The Rotary Club of Salamander Bay has organised a fundraiser for the charity, while the Rotary Club of Nelson Bay supports the Centre by donating monthly to their client welfare appeal for food and essential toiletries.

On April 26-27 Jan’s Patchwork Group, of Gateway Community Church, will hold a quilt and craft show titled ‘Hands for Yacaaba’.

Most impressive though will be the efforts of Vicky Hains, who plans to ride a motorcycle from the Yacaaba Centre headquarters in Nelson Bay all the way to London – which will undoubtedly be a story in itself.

The team at the Yacaaba Centre will pitch in themselves, with plans to host a black-tie event sometime in September in celebration of 35 years of service.

Coming up first in the year, however, will be a fundraising dinner hosted by Zenith restaurant at Shoal Bay on Wednesday 6 March.

“This will be a great opportunity to talk to people about what we’re doing, and what we hope to do for the community, in the coming year.”

Anyone interested in further details about the fundraising dinner can contact 4063 0026.

By Lindsay HALL

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